SNOWFLAKE 2 The Garlands front cover 600px

The Garlands – Christmas Song / I Don’t Intend to Spend Christmas Without You 7″ (2013)

Snowflakes Christmas Singles Club
Buy: 7″ Vinyl | 7″ Vinyl Bandcamp | 7Digital MP3 (US) | Amazon UK MP3

The Garlands‘ contribution to last year’s inaugural Snowflakes Christmas Singles Club is a perfect indie pop Christmas single. For the uninitiated, the SCSC format is 7″ records with an original A-side, and a cover B-side. The Garlands A-side, “Christmas Song,” is as beautiful as anything they’ve ever done. These Swedes can do English-indie pop better than most native speakers. I find myself liking it more with every listen – there is this part where the tone takes a somber dip, and damn I love it. The B-side cover of Claudine Longet classic is equally pretty, as they somehow found a way to pour more sugar on an already sweet song. Claudine would be proud.

You can still pick up this release, but there are only 500, so I’d get it sooner than later.

Bottom Line: Indiepop Christmas at its finest. 4.6/5

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Red Sleeping Beauty

Red Sleeping Beauty “Christmas” (1992)

Marsh-Marigold (EP) / Siesta (Compilation)
Buy: Discogs (CD/LP) | Amazon UK

Associated with the wonderful Acid House Kings (in that they share one member), Red Sleeping Beauty were active from 1992-1997 are recently back in the swing of things with a new track (a cover) on the bonus disc of Alpaca Sports’ debut release. For those, like me, who have followed that Swedish indie-pop rabbit hole down a good ways, this is good news.

Red Sleeping Beauty, like the Acid House Kings, dabbled in a seasonal tune on their first release. Amazingly enough, both songs were titled “Christmas,” and were released in the same year (1992) on the same record label (Marsh-Marigold). However, one song is significantly better than the other – and my (unfortunate) distaste for the AHK song left me with quite low expectations for the RSB tune. I was, however, quite pleasantly surprised. Red Sleeping Beauty recorded a perfectly fine indie-pop Christmas tune, very much in the style of the genre, but with a nice bed of fuzz to build the male/female vocal interplay upon. Originally released on their 1992 debut EP, Pop Sounds, it is much easier located on 2000’s Siesta singles compilation appropriately titled, Singles.

Bottom Line: Solid indie-pop from Sweden gets my vote. As I live with this tune some more, it might get a few more points… we’ll see. 3.9/5

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Too Pure Singles Christmas

Too Pure Singles Club – Seize the Chair / Best Friends 7″ (2013)

Too Pure Singles Club
Buy: Please don’t buy them all before I get some money together.

Wow. Garage rock Christmas heaven with Seize the Chair and Best Friends. I had seen this 7″ posted here and there, but hadn’t had a chance to really listen to it yet. I will not waste any more of your time – the listen links are below.

Bottom Line: HOLY $%^&. One of my favorite Christmas releases.  5/5

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Haus of PINS

Haus of PINS presents Hymns (2013)

Haus of PINS
Buy: For 2014! Green Cassette Repress & Download

Haus of PINS has one of the more intriguing comps this year. I wish I had more funds to pick up the cassette version of the release, but adding in that overseas P&P has me settling for the download. I will ammend this entry at a later date when I have a moment to review it, but for now, here is what they have to say about it.

Reposted from Haus of PINS:

Haus of PINS are proud to present their last release of the year – a hand-crafted, limited edition Christmas complication cassette, titled ‘Hymns’. PINS have contributed their Christmas song, ‘Kiss Me Quickly (It’s Christmas)’ and collaborated with eleven other bands – some Haus of PINS artists, some Manchester bands, and some friends from elsewhere – to create a Christmas compliation tape of completely original material. Faith of PINS says, ‘Some of the bands already had the songs, other bands wrote a song exclusively for it, which I’m honoured by.’ Bands involve include Post War Glamour Girls, September Girls, Brown Brogues and many more.

All of the proceeds from ‘Hymns’ will be given to SWAP, a charity that helps refugees and asylum seekers in the North. Faith explains ‘My grandfather volunteers for the charity, he goes every week – he’s 81 years old and still chooses to spend his time doing this really admirable thing. I think he is an inspiration.’

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Goldenbread cover

Annie Hall / Gonzo48K – Goldenbread (2007)

Pipolla Music
Buy: CD (Italy)

High hopes are never a good place to start. Though I know you should never judge a book by its cover, a swedish indie pop band named Annie Hall checks three of my boxes: Swedish, indiepop and a Woody Allen reference. How could it go wrong? Well, first off, this thing was a huge pain to get ahold of. You can’t order from the label (they do not ship to the US), and thus I had to get it from France, and pay more in shipping than the CD cost. Not looking good already, because if you know this blog, cost to obtain certainly plays into the overall rating.

Annie Hall begins the disc with “Morning News,” a fine-enough little song that I can’t for the life of me figure out how its seasonal. Their second song, “Walk Around,” does begin with “It’s Christmas time / Here’s an old song / for a new year.” They also mention snowballs… but really, its a bit of a downer right out of the gate with the dour music. Not something I really want to listen to again. Bummer.

Gonzo48K is the Japanese wildcard of this release – I really had no expectations, as I don’t listen to much Japanese indiepop. “Snowman’s Tears” has the kind of music that I wish Annie Hall had – upbeat, poppy, certainly in a Swede-pop vein. The lyrics, well… “So darling / You make me colder / you make me older / you close my folder?” Not exactly what I’m looking for, but really, english is their second language and they write better songs in English than I do in Japanese. “Turn off the Radio” is a much better attempt. It may even be on a shortlist for future mixes… I dig the backing beat, and the lyrics are much better: “Walk through the street light / in the Christmas time / Back to the starlight / Where the children write / Turn off the Radio / Turn off the Radio.” Still not quite telling a story, but certainly evocative when complimented by the contemplative backing track. I can’t find it posted anywhere, but you can preview 30 seconds of it on Last.fm.

Bottom Line: Good luck trying to buy it, especially in the US. Certainly not worth the price it cost to import, with only one possible song. Loses points for all the wrong reasons. 1.2/5

LISTEN

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tUv7XQR9gdA]
Peaks "Love"

Peaks “Xmas Song” (2012)

Sober & Gentle
Buy: RoW (as in… not available in the US, barely available to the world)

Did you enjoy Cocoon? Because if you did, you may like Peaks. Why? Because its one half of Cocoon (Morgane Imbeaud) singing a song that has nearly the same name! Officially released on their debut mini-album, Love, this song was also promoted as a Christmas gift from Peaks last year. I do not believe it was ever available for free download though…

As you can imagine, the music is quite lovely. It is unavoidable for a band associated with Morgane Imeaud. Now lets take a stab at the lyrics… if you guessed dark, you guessed right! The song finds the lead character lamenting how wonderful it would be if they were still in love and stuck inside together, while crying that her love is not there and not coming back again. So bring that mix back down to earth with this fuzzy little Christmas dirge.

Bottom Line: You guessed it. I’m a fan. Loses points because of the extreme lengths you may have to go through to actually purchase this song. Sober & Gentle will not ship to the US, and I can’t find it on Amazon/iTunes. 4.2/5

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Silent Night, Tiny Lights

Silent Night, Tiny Lights (2012)

Tiny Lights
Buy: Bandcamp

A generally solid compilation with some definite highlights, but keep in mind one can’t be toooo tough on something that benefits kids. I was able to get ahold of one of the very-limited CD versions of this release, though consider that a personal failing of mine (the urge for the physical object, not just buying bytes). I bought it on spec… I think there were only about 100 or so, and the price was not more than the download if I remember correctly… bonus points for that.

This is a big one (19 tracks), so were are really only going to go through the highlights:

The Futureheads‘ “Christmas Was Better in the 80s” came out a few years ago, but remains a personal favorite. This is a nice bonus, being that I had only been able to previously purchase an MP3, and have now since upgraded to CD/FLAC. Certainly mix-worthy, and if you live in the states, you may even impress a friend or two who haven’t heard it and/or have no clue who the Futureheads are.

Blank Maps‘ “Stollen” is the kind of track that I like to have about 3/4 through the disc, slow, pretty and dramatic. Perhaps I haven’t listened closely enough yet… but having a tough time connecting it to Christmas though. Lionhall’s “Angel” falls into the same category. Loose if any Christmas connection at all, with the same pace and beauty. These are not necessarily something I would put on a mix, but certainly better songs than most.

The Railway Club slow down “Baby, Please Come Home” with excellent results. Acoustic guitars, an organ, bass, jingle bells (perhaps a mandolin too) and nice harmonies created a nice warm atmosphere. The original overpowers with a wall of sound, while this version invites you in for some cocoa.

A Woman of No Importance‘s “That’ll be Christmas” is one of the more interesting originals covers on the record. Thea Gilmore’s tune is very engaging; the lyrics can be funny or sad, sentimental or daft, all within one verse. I have not heard the original yet, but will no doubt do so. Certainly worth a listen. (Thanks for the clarification onedaywhen. Feel free to throw some listening suggestions my way too!)

Fawn Spots‘ “Santa Won’t Get Away with it This Year,” is noise rock with synths, and it works. Certainly something to consider for your Christmas mix, if you need something to up the pace. I know that I’ve had years where I was scrounging for something that wasn’t mid-to-low tempo and pretty… just hoping to find that dirty rock n’ roll to spice it up a bit. If I remember correctly, they also won Fat Cat Records Christmas song contest with this song as well.

While there are still some very listenable other tracks on the disc, these are the main ones that I wanted to call out. I just can’t do track-by-track for 19 tracks. I have a baby, and there just isn’t enough time in the day.

Bottom Line: Some good stuff, but only 2-3 songs that I would consider mix-worthy (and one of them has already been on one). 3.5/5

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Avalanche Records’ Alternative Christmas (2009)

Avalanche Records (Edinburgh)
Buy: Good luck!

One of the biggest challenges with reviewing Christmas records, is that so many are released to benefit charities. I certainly don’t want to crap all over a record that benefits sick kids, and thankfully, I don’t have to.

Avalanche Records in Edinburgh, Scotland released a very DIY Christmas record back in 2009. Simply titled Alternative Christmas, this compilation features mainly Scottish artists each submitting an original song, with only a few exceptions. So, for those out there who love originals (like me), this is a good start.

I originally purchased this to have an audio master for There Will Be Fireworks‘ “In Excelsis Deo,” which is a dramatic, and fantastic song; a perfect ending to my 2010 Christmas Mix. This used to be the only place you could buy this track, and of course it has since been released elsewhere. Fellow dramatic Scots Frightened Rabbit also lend their (by now) classic track, “Its Christmas So We’ll Stop.” I think this may be the only official CD release of the track, beyond a promo that they sent to radio stations back in 2008.

A large chunk of this record is terribly sad. The Savings and Loan contribute a serviceable cover of the Palace Brothers’ lament “Christmastime in the Mountains,” but it does not improve upon the original – which is a must if you are going to perform it in a similar style. Withered Hand gives us an emotional “Its a Wonderful Lie,” and while it certainly has its moments, it is just too dreary for me. Really, this one could be you favorite tune on the record if you really love a Christmas dirge. Another rather brutal, but well-done song is the Phil Ochs tune, “No Christmas in Kentucky”, retitled “Christmas in Kirkcaldy,” and performed by Meursault. Scots singing about the Southeast United States… and the poverty that is Appalachia. I have heard it all.

Two final tracks that are certainly worth a listen are Emily Scott‘s “Holy,” and X-Lion Tamer‘s stab at Beck’s “Little Drum Machine Boy.” Both are done well, and “Holy” is an extremely pretty, sparse folk song with excellent vocal layers.

Bottom Line: Can be quite sad, but has a higher percentage of good songs than most comps out there. 3.8/5

LISTEN:

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oMlpRJf1iSE]
[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Jw9MMvdol9Q]

icon

12 Days of Christmas cover

12 Days of Christmas (2009)

Bubblewrap Collective
Buy: CD | Bandcamp

The concept is intriguing. 12 bands were selected and given 31 days to write and record a song, each based on a particular day in the “12 Days of Christmas.” It was intriguing enough to compel me to preorder it many moons ago. As with nearly every single Christmas compilation, there is a WIDE variety of quality on this record. The tracks that rise above the rest are all female-fronted indie bands – one might think that I have a type. The first notable track is “Five Golden Rings from the Hi Five Kings” by The Rocky Nest. They have a great musical aesthetic – everything works well together. The second track I would like to highlight is “Silver Swans in NYC” by Allo, Darlin’ (Look them up – they put out a fantastic record this year). This was the one I was anticipating… and perhaps it was that anticipation that raised the expectations a bit too high. Its a lovely little song… but for some reason I wish it was a more fleshed-out production. There are a few other tracks on there that are ok, but largely, I was not a huge fan.

Bottom Line: So much potential, but not enough quality payoff. 2/5

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Fantasia de Navidad cover

Fantasia De Navidad (2002)

Siesta
Buy: Discogs (CD) | Amazon.uk (CD)

If you want an entire record of very, very, very pretty indie pop, then Fantasia de Navidad is for you. I find very little fault with the efforts of these Siesta recording artists – they have pleasant music, and interesting lyrics. There is also a calypso? thread that runs through the record, popping up into the forefront at times. There It is perhaps a little too pure indie pop for what I am looking for on my own personal mix (or to subject to party guests). I am just not that skinny and beautiful, while somehow melancholy and well dressed, to pull it off.

Of particular note, Admiral Achilles’ “East of the Country” (at certain times) sounds like it could very well be Elvis Costello in disguise, perhaps going indie pop in between his Burt Bacharach and country music phases. Their second track on the album, “Christmas,” sounds like Mark Kozelek… specifically with his vocal phrasing, as well as the general tone. I can’t pin that band down…

This one is tough to come by… to read more about it, check out Siesta’s discography.

(A quick afterthought – this CD comes in a regular version, as well as an ultra-limited, wooden CD case version with the cover impressed upon it. Crazy.)

Bottom Line: Do you LOVE indie pop? If you do, add 2 points on to my score. 2.8/5